Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Italian beefs and Bawlmer pit sandwiches

"How do you want it?" came the voice, crackly down the phone line.  "Hot and wet," I whispered, "and sweet and juicy for my friend."  It's not every day ordering couple of sandwiches makes you feel like you're a phone sex operator, but that's how you do it here in Chicago when you want an Italian beef.

This is absolutely my favourite Chicago food.  Seasoned beef that has been "wet-roasted" in a flavoursome, clear beef jus, then sliced wafer-thin and returned to the juice it was roasted in.  This is then piled on thick, coarse-crumbed, Italian-style bread.  The "sweet" or "hot" in the order comes from your choices of sweet peppers (sauteed capsicum) or hot giardiniera, a spicy mix of pickled vegetables and feisty green chillis.  Once constructed, your sandwich can be "dry" (the meat was allowed to drain before being piled on the bread), "wet" (the meat was slapped on with lots of juice), or "dipped"/"juicy" (the entire sandwich was dunked back into the juice).  Each beef shack has its own subtle permutations on the lingo, like "soaked" or "double-dipped."

Baltimore has a signature beef sandwich too - the "pit beef" or "pit sandwich."  Good enough to make you confess to murder, apparently!  (If you have not watched The Wire - SHAME, SHAME! - spoiler alert!!)

Chaps Pit Beef in Baltimore is just off the highway heading out of town.  You can pick it by the line out the door and the plume of smoke rising from the monstrous grill inside.

Great hunks of beef are blackened on the bars here, before being thinly sliced and served on your choice of bun, the classic being a kaiser roll.  The meat, which is best rare or medium-rare, is then traditionally topped with raw onion and doused liberally with fresh horseradish or "tiger sauce," based on horseradish.

Very tasty, although mine did need a lot of help in the form of salt and horseradish - and ordering it was a lot less fun than ordering a beef in Chicago.

For Italian beef in Chicago, you could start by exploring Beef with HotI recommend Johnnie's Beef (Arlington Heights/Elmwood Park) and Tore & Luke's (Palatine).

Chaps Pit Beef
5801 Pulaski Hwy
Baltimore MD


  1. Hahaha love it! Can't wait to go to Chicago (one day) to order Italian beef. Makes me reminisce about my Italian ex-boyfriend... oops, better keep it PG.

    In any case, this looks like a worthy contender for even the mighty banh mi!

  2. So juicy, Lucy! Looks like the equivalent of a New Orleans roast beef po boy. I love the sweet, hot, wet, dry and dipped gradations!

    Gad - did you and you clan manage scarf ANY ethnic/Asian tucker over there at all?

  3. You had my attention from the first sentence. Now I'm dying to go to Chicago just so I can order Italian beef.

    Of course, it looks really yummy too, but that's the bonus right?

  4. Always wanted to head to Chicago! Next year I hope. And give me a wet meat!

  5. Ahhhh wet meat. Oh, we are all so mature! Kenny, I did eat plenty of Mexican, but that was about it in terms of ethnic. Chicago does have a "little Saigon" and a Chinatown, but it's not known for its Asian cuisine, as opposed to New York or San Fran.

  6. 'Twas no bad thing to go with the flow. My experiences with NY and SF were long ago, and New Orleans is not a known ethnic/Asian city, but still ... I don't think I'm being merely jingoistic when I suggest that when it comes to the Vietnamese, Malaysian and so on - and not forgetting Middle Eastern and African - the best place to be in the whole entire world is The Place We Are In Right Here.

    Another thing, one you've possibly noted given some of your US adventures: There's a helluva big difference between US Italian (including NY Italian and New Orleans Italian), on the one hand, and Australian Italian.

    American Italian culture, including food, is based on migration that took place largely over a century ago.

    Our Italian culture is based on migration that took place largely post-WWII.

    Thus much of our Italo foodie culture here in Melbourne hews closer to that of the mother country. And, with the cheap flights and IT, it has the ability to keep doing so.

    I have one American friend who told me he had Italian friends who looked upon their American/Italian cousins as being like something from Mars.

    Which is not to diss anyone or anything: I have New Orleans friends who frequent two pizza joints - one old-school, the other new-school.

  7. Thank feck Baltimore is nowhere near me. I totally remember that ep of The Wire (just about to start season 5, sniff sniff).

    I have my own Wire-inspired EDS post planned...stay tuned... :)

  8. Kenny, I find it really interesting how an adapted "subcuisine" can spring off from the main root of a food tradition (often through migration and catering to the tastes of the host population), mutate, and become great in its own right. I was just reading about Filipino cuisine last night and how it is this fusion of Chinese and Spanish.

    Gem - FELLOW WIRE FAN!! I failed to mention that Chaps is where D'Angelo goes with Wee Bey et al in season 1, and Wee Bey piles horseradish on his sandwich and says, "The trick is not to give a shit." Looking forward to your post! I have another stop on our "Wire tour" coming up - clue: "You're alright, McNulty."

  9. I agree. Many of my better memories of New Orleans fud are to do with Italian/Creole hybrids.

    Have you tried any of the Filipino food stalls at the Market That Bans Cameras And Those Who Wield Them?

  10. I have only tried a lumpia (Filipino spring roll) from Lutong Pinoy in the MTBCATWWT, which unfortunately was not that great. Need to get a proper meal there, though. There is meant to be a great Filipino takeaway in Cairnlea (read about it ages ago on foodrehab.com.au)

    I was reading last night that a traditional Filipino breakfast is longaniza sausages, fried, then leftover rice fried in the leftover oil, plus eggs too. Oh yeah!! I have seen those particular sausages in the MTBCATWWT - going on my to-try list!


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